2004 Mercedes-Benz SL Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Robert Ahl Robert Ahl Editor
March 6, 2003

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sponsored by Mercedes-Benz USA


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MARSEILLE, France — After an unprecedented number of new vehicle introductions in 2002, Mercedes-Benz is keeping the momentum, first with the introduction last month of C-Class and S-Class 4Matic all-wheel-drive models and this month with the introduction of two more: the E-Class station wagon, and the awesome SL600 twin-turbo V-12 sports roadster.

The E320 wagon, to be joined later by the company’s first V-8 wagon, the E500, has done nothing less than turn the station wagon world upside down. The new E wagon is longer, wider, taller, and roomier than the old E wagon, and certainly more beautiful. Everything aft of the second seat has been so thoroughly rethought, retooled and re-engineered that the E320 wagon makes every other station wagon in the business look like an amateur in the professional world of cargo hauling. Later in the year, in September, both the E320 and E500 wagons should be available with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system as well.

The E-Class wagon story goes deep and wide. For starters, there is the one-piece power tailgate, which pops open and raises to its highest point at the touch of a button on the key fob, so that the driver can time its opening for just the right moment and do it with one finger from a good distance away. When you’re finished loading, reach up and touch the button on the bottom surface of the gate, and it closes. If anything or anyone gets in the way, it stops. The cargo cover goes up and down with the tailgate, and the tailgate can be stopped at any point in its travel with another click.

2004 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

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The tailgate opens to a cargo area that can be equipped in any of several ways. The standard flat load floor behind the second seat provides 24.3 cubic feet of space. With one third of the second seat folded down and the seat cushion vertical, there’s just over 30 cubic feet. With two thirds of the seat down and the seat cushion vertical, there’s 33 cubic feet. With the whole second seat down and seat cushion vertical, cargo room jumps to almost 40 cubic feet. Reach in and pop out the lightweight rear seat cushions, and you’re up to 68 cubic feet. If that isn’t enough, you can still drop the backrest of the right front seat for more space and/or very long objects, up to 10.5 feet long, all in a vehicle the size of an E-Class wagon (for the first time, Mercedes-Benz will offer an optional ski bag that holds three pairs of skis).

But that’s only the beginning. If you have more kids than cargo requirements, you can opt for a third row of seats. If you frequently handle heavy items, you can opt for a power-operated hydraulic load floor that, when activated, pops up out of its place and rolls out almost sixteen inches to meet you. Drop you load onto the platform, hit the button, and it slides back into place without you having to bend over. It’ll hold up to 440 pounds of stuff safely.

The Easy Pack option includes a complete set of truly innovative cargo handling and securing equipment in an album under the floor: a set of aluminum rails and four twist-lock hold-downs that can be locked into the floor rails a minimum of two inches apart, and a telescoping bar with a wide, seat-belt style retracting strap that can be used to pin cargoes against the side walls or the second seat back or all the way to the rear. A third item in the package is a set of telescoping aluminum tubes that also anchor into the load floor rails to secure heavy cargoes. Taken together, they form the best cargo security kit ever developed for a station wagon. Fourth is a triangular box that nests between the side walls and the back of the second seat that’s open in the front but closed at the back. Pop down the second seat, toss in your purse, wallet or camera, pop the seat back up, and no one even knows it’s there.

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Now, if you don’t opt for the third row of seats or the Easy Pack hydraulic load platform, which are mutually exclusive, you get the standard load floor, which, when lifted up, reveals two additional load spaces, one at the bottom where the spare tire would normally fit (E-Class vehicles pack a tire sealing kit instead of a spare) and a fully organized second load area with compartments for CDs, an umbrella, a road atlas, or what have you.

Other innovations introduced on the E320 wagon include the optional dynamic multi-contour seats, which use electric compressors and air bladders to quickly inflate a system of four cushions in the seat to hold you in nice and tight. When the car is steered to the right, you can feel the cushions inflate on the left side of your body, and vice versa. When you’re not turning, the seats massage your lumbar region to relieve stress. 

There are also optional AirMatic DC air shocks, self–leveling rear air suspension, and Sensotronic electronic braking with three new features: Softstop for driving in stop-and-go traffic; Anti-Stall Assist for hill-holding with one stab of the brake pedal; and Tailback Assist (not a scholarship for a football player; a tailback is British for traffic jam). TA lets the driver control the brakes using the cruise control lever and the accelerator pedal, without touching the brakes, at speed up to about 35 mph.

The new E-Class wagons will be here in few months, with the E320 V-6 starting at about $45,000 and the quicker, faster E500 wagon starting at about $55,000


SL 600: Warp Drive Personified

2004 Mercedes-Benz SL600

2004 Mercedes-Benz SL600

Last year, Mercedes-Benz introduced a completely new SL500 roadster with an automatic folding steel top on the 50th anniversary of the original 300SL Gullwing coupe that first raced in 1952. Late in the year, Mercedes added the high-performance version, the SL55 AMG, sporting a supercharged V-8 of 493 horsepower and more than 500 lb-ft of torque. For 2004, they’ve added the ne plus ultra of SL models, the SL600, powered by a twin-turbocharged 5.8-liter V-12 engine that’s the most powerful engine ever installed in a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. It’s rated at 500 horsepower and just under 600 lb-ft of torque, and is a close relative of the twin-turbo V-12 engine used in the Maybach, rated at 550 horsepower and 664 lb-ft. That means 0-60 mph in less than 4.7 seconds and a top speed limited to 155 mph, though the car will do closer to 190 with the governor turned off.

All that lovely, spine-flattening torque is fed through a heavy-duty 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift gate that’s almost as much fun to sue as a true manual with a clutch pedal. The SL 600 has everything the SL 500 has as standard equipment, plus its own special ruffled leather upholstery, embossed V-12 emblems on the head restraints, soft, textured floor mats with chrome letters, a wood-and-leather steering wheel, wood-and-leather shifter, the Mercedes-Benz COMAND system with its new wide screen, a CD changer and a premium sound system.

Underneath, you get 255/40ZR-18 front and 285/35ZR-18 rear tires, exclusive V-12 wheels and painted brake calipers, a slightly different grille texture, V-12 emblems on the side air intakes, and bi-xenon headlamps.

Other standard equipment for the V-12: ABS, ESP, traction control, Parktronic parking assist, Active Body Control active suspension, Sensotronic electronic braking, a new automatic climate control system and Vario roof, all for about $135,000.


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